Tuesday, February 12, 2008

University boost

Sun2Surf: PUTRAJAYA (Feb 12, 2008): Improving the standards of medical and healthcare programmes by ensuring qualified educators and quality students. This will be the catalyst to enhance the ranking of Malaysian universities, which has been sliding in the past few years.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said yesterday this is a key component in the government’s efforts to enhance the level of excellence of public universities, including instilling a high-performance culture, increasing transparency, and ensuring autonomy of university management.
To begin with, Mustapa said, Public Services director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam will call for a meeting between Mustapa’s ministry and the Health Ministry soon to discuss outstanding matters.
These matters include the placement of medical students in government hospitals, the limited number of places in universities for medical programmes, and the involvement of academicians in tertiary lectures, hospital administration and clinical work.
"We want to find solutions that will meet and benefit the national agenda, not only those that serve the respective ministries’ objectives," Mustapa told a press conference after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak at Najib’s office.
"We are happy that many issues have been resolved but there is a need to strengthen this relationship so that everything is seen from the context of national and global competitiveness."
The meeting was also attended by representatives from the PSD, Treasury, Economic Planning Unit, and the management of 20 public universities. Mustapa said the meeting, the first to look into issues on higher education and researches, also discussed last year’s Times Higher Education Supplement-Quacquarelli- Symonds (THES-QS) World University Rankings, which did not include any Malaysian university in the list of top 200 universities.
He said the government has laid out strategic plans to boost the universities’ rankings, including giving more allocations to universities for research purposes.
The meeting also discussed giving more financial autonomy to vice-chancellors, provided it is taken "with accountability and responsibility".
The VCs would have a freehand in running the universities financially and turning them into high-performance institutions.
However, for this to be realised, it will need the cabinet’s approval and amendments to the existing laws.
Mustapa said they also discussed the Financial Procedure Act in relation to the establishment of subsidiaries.
"If we want to form a subsidiary, we have to go to the Finance Ministry. This is a legal requirement.
Some procedures definitely need to be speeded up and bureaucracy minimised so that the plans can be executed smoothly," he said.

Move to improve education system in varsities

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The education system in Malaysia’s public universities must be improved with greater transparency and meritocracy, said Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed.
He said this was among the issues decided at the inaugural meeting of various government agencies and university representatives to further boost the performance of the universities.
“We will also continue with our earlier plan to create apex universities and give more autonomous power to universities with financial freedom to the vice-chancellors,” he told reporters after the meeting yesterday.
Mustapa said various government agencies would work together with the Higher Education Ministry to bring an overall improvement to public universities.
The aim is also to push up the world ranking of the country’s 22 local public universities.
He said that in principle, it was agreed that a few regulations and laws pertaining to universities would be amended to pave the way for the planned improvements, including the Financial Procedures Act.
“The amendments would be proposed to the Cabinet in due course,” said Mustapa.
He said that the plan would also include getting highly qualified lecturers, where merit would not be compromised.
Mustapa also said 50 participants from 42 countries would take part in the annual International Bahasa Melayu Oration Competition this year.
The participation this year is nearly double last year’s 23 participating countries, he said.

Stringent tests, labelling for new drugs, food

NST: PUTRAJAYA: All new food and pharmaceutical products will have to undergo stringent testing before they can be brought on the market.
Both local and foreign producers and manufacturers will have to obtain “pre-market approval” and have their products certified fit for sale.
The Health Ministry Food Safety and Quality Control division director Dr Abd Rahim Mohamad said under the new requirement, producers of food and pharmaceutical products will need to conduct an analysis on their goods and submit the findings.
They must list clearly any claims of benefit and function, as well as the ingredients, nutrients and additives in the product.
Products will not be allowed on the shelves until they meet the requirements, he said.
And once a product has been approved, it will be given a serial number for easy monitoring.
Under the pre-market approval system, proper labelling of products will be emphasised and misleading product names will be rejected. For example, a biscuit cannot be called “Biskuat", implying that eating it would make one strong (kuat).
“This new system will curb label abuse and rampant false advertising,” Dr Abd Rahim said, adding that this would also ensure that product labels did not breach the Food Act 1983 and Food Regulations 1985.
He said all labels must provide details of the producers and cannot make exaggerated claims, like “a good diet begins with X” and “drink X for a healthier lifestyle".
Claims that a certain product is recommended for those with diabetes, cancer, hypertension and kidney problems are also not allowed.
And producers cannot claim that their product is above the rest, by saying, for example, “X does not contain boric acid", as this negative remark suggests that competitors’ products contain the substance.
Dr Abd Rahim said Thailand and Indonesia had fully implemented this system and Malaysia would do it in stages.
“There are so many products being introduced. For starters, we will focus on children’s products, including milk formula, and perishable goods and products targeted at senior citizens,” he told a media dialogue on food safety and quality yesterday.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tailgating for a faster drive

NST: KLANG: Some Malaysians have a dirty habit: moving in behind a passing ambulance with its siren blaring so they can take advantage of the freed-up space for a faster, smoother drive.
What these people do not realise is that their bad habit could cause a problem.
An average of two Malaysian Red Crescent Society ambulances are involved in accidents every month in Selangor alone because of the actions of these motorists.
It is taking a huge toll on the resources of the charitable organisation.
Selangor Red Crescent Society deputy chairman Venu- kopalan Chellathurai said more than half of the organisation’s maintenance bills for the six ambulances it operates were for “body work” after being hit from behind.
“Of the RM29,000 spent on repairs last year, almost RM15,000 was used for body work. That’s a huge sum for a non-governmental organisation.”
Inconsiderate motorists who tailgate ambulances responding to emergencies were the main culprits.
“They are oblivious to the danger to themselves, the ambulance crew and patient either in the ambulance or at the scene, due to the delay any accident will cause,” said Venukopalan.
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Noel Silas Savarimuthu said in most instances, the culprits did not even bother to stop.
“There is little we can do if we are responding to an emergency; people’s lives are at stake and every second counts.”
He said there had been instances of EMTs being injured when their ambulance was hit from behind by other vehicles.
The society also bemoaned the fact that motorists did not follow the rules when it came to emergency lanes.
The fact that motorists used the emergency lane as “just another lane” during traffic jams, coupled with some who ignored sirens on emergency vehicles, added to the response time for EMTs.
The society believed the problem was in education and enforcement.
Venukopalan said the right response to an ambulance with its siren blaring and beacons flashing was not addressed in the syllabus of local driving tests or current road laws.
“Even the use of sirens and beacons, once reserved for the police, Fire and Rescue Department and ambulances, seems to have been extended to commercial vehicles such as hearses, trucks and buses.”
Venukopalan said the subject should be introduced to future generations of drivers while they are in school.
“The subject should be broached during primary school, reinforced while they study for driving tests and enforced strictly by the enforcement authorities.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Unregistered clinic: Doctor’s wife files application to reduce fine

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The wife of a doctor who is in jail after failing to settle a RM120,000 fine has filed a revision to reduce the amount.
Norliza Hassan, 44, has also applied for her husband to be released on a good behaviour bond.
Her husband, Dr Basmullah Yusoff, was found guilty of operating his clinic, Pusat Perubatan Al Hilal Sdn Bhd in Kampung Pandan, which was not registered.
He became the first doctor in the country to be convicted under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 Act for operating an unregistered clinic.
He was fined RM120,000 or three months’ jail. He could not raise the amount and has been serving his sentence at the Kajang Prison since Jan 19.
Norliza, a canteen worker, made the application through her counsel Karpal Singh at the High Court registry yesterday.
She named the public prosecutor as the respondent.
Karpal said he had filed a notice of urgency for the application to be heard tomorrow.
In her supporting affidavit, Norliza claimed her husband was unrepresented and was not informed of the maximum fine.
She said the Sessions Court should have informed him of the hefty fine so that he could seek legal aid.
Norliza also claimed that her husband, in a written mitigation, had stated he was unable to raise the RM120,000 fine or pay it in instalments.
Norliza, who was present during the filing, said an enforcement officer from the Health Ministry had posed as a patient before nabbing her husband.
“My husband was treated like a criminal, seeing the number of enforcement officers who raided the clinic,” she said, adding that Dr Basmullah had been operating the clinic for 19 years.
Norliza claimed that her husband did not know the requirement of the Health Ministry to have the clinic registered.
Former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek had appealed to doctors not to blame him for Dr Basmullah’s jail sentence.
He had said the legislation was to weed out bogus doctors who posed a threat to public health and safety.
“I wanted to ensure that genuine doctors were registered. My paramount concern was patients’ safety.
“We are talking about people’s health and lives,” he had said.
He claimed the ministry had given ample time for doctors to register their clinics.
Under the Act, Dr Basmullah was liable to a maximum fine of RM500,000.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Health department steps up checks on foodstuff

Star: JOHOR BARU: The state health department has intensified inspections in a bid to ensure that all festive foodstuff sold is safe for consumption.
An operation, codenamed Ops Shu 2008, began on Jan 24 targeting supermarkets, mini markets and sundry shops in Johor and will go on till the Chinese New Year.
Up to Jan 31, the department had checked 116 premises and sent food samples for analysis.
Johor health director Dr Marzukhi Md Isa said 17 of the 77 samples tested for boric acid were positive.
He said the foodstuff included yellow noodles, koay teow, Nyonya kuih and bak chang and the people responsible would be charged for preparing or selling food containing substances injurious to health.
If convicted, a person can be fined not more than RM100,000 or jailed for up to 10 years or both.
“We also sent 22 samples for beta agonist tests but the results have yet to be finalised,” he told a press conference at his office here yesterday.
He said imported products such as fruits, mushroom, waxed duck and seaweed would be tested for pesticides, colouring, preservatives and heavy metals.
Dr Marzukhi said his officers also seized 620 cans of foodstuff worth some RM78,000 from the premises.
“The canned foods seized were dented, expired or were found to have labelling problems,” he said, adding these products would be destroyed.
Dr Marzukhi said the department would also step up checks on the cleanliness of premises selling food, including restaurants and hawker centres.

Must-do stint for ‘beauty docs’

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Doctors who practise aesthetic medicine will have to go through a training module to ensure they are suitably qualified. And it could take up to three years.
The Health Ministry will soon draw up a training module for aesthetic medicine and doctors who undergo the programme will be acknowledged as specialists.
Its director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the ministry and The Academy of Medicine Malaysia did not recognise the field as a sub-speciality now.
“While this is pending, we will not allow a person to call himself an aesthetic specialist,” he told reporters yesterday.
And clinics that use the word “aesthetic” on their signboards must remove it. They could, however, include it in their list of services, he added.
“All doctors have to undergo this three year training locally and overseas before they can claim to be a sub specialist,” Dr Ismail said.
He also revealed a case where a doctor underwent a five-day course and received a certificate.
An additional five days gained him a diploma, he added.
“We have characters like that in our midst,” he said.
From now on, doctors who offer aesthetic procedures must produce proof of their training and qualifications to the ministry’s medical practice division before they are allowed to carry out the procedures.
Currently, 60 establishments have applied for the approval.
“Our role is not to be restrictive but it is our responsibility to the public. Patient safety overrides everything else,” Dr Ismail added.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Doctor chose to go to jail

NST: PUTRAJAYA: The doctor who is behind bars for three months for failing to pay a RM120,000 fine over his unregistered clinic preferred jail to paying the amount in instalments.
Dr Basmullah Yusom declined the Health Ministry's offer to stay out of jail.
Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the offer was made to the doctor by the ministry's prosecuting officer.
"It's not that we do not care for doctors or are unsympathetic to them," he said when asked about the strong feelings within the medical fraternity over Dr Basmullah's imprisonment.
Dr Ismail said it was time the ministry put the facts straight on the doctor's case.
"I want the medical fraternity and public to know what exactly happened."
He said action against the Al Hilal Polyclinic and Dr Basmullah was based on a complaint from a legal firm in May 2006.
Among others, he said, the complainant demanded to know the status of the clinic.
"Investigations confirmed that the clinic was unregistered. About the same period, ministry enforcement teams raided unregistered clinics owned by businessmen in Seremban, Klang and other towns and sealed them," he said.
Former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek brought the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 (Act 586) into force on May 1, 2006.
Doctors did not want the act passed especially as they could become "criminals" if prosecuted by the ministry for specific offences.
The ministry has so far approved the registration of 6,322 clinics, 1,439 dental clinics and 51 clinics which offer aesthetic procedures.
Dr Ismail said this spoke volumes of the support from the majority of doctors.
He said Dr Basmullah could have registered his clinic after his clinic was sealed on July 11, last year but did not do so.
"Despite the sealing, Dr Basmullah did not take the initiative to register. He also chose not to be represented in court. He pleaded guilty to the charge."
He said the ministry viewed the matter as a landmark case in efforts to regulate the medical care sector.
"If Dr Basmullah feels he has been harshly sentenced by the Sessions Court, he has the right to appeal to a higher court," he added.
Dr Basmullah, 44, pleaded guilty to operating the Al-Hilal Medical Centre Sdn Bhd at 55, Jalan 5/76B, Desa Pandan off Jalan Kampung Pandan since 1998. The father of eight, who claimed he could not raise the fine, is serving his sentence at the Kajang Prison.

Doctors cannot use 'aesthetic' on signboards

NST: PUTRAJAYA: A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet but the saying certainly does not apply to Malaysian doctors.
The Health Ministry has decided not to allow medical practitioners to use the word "aesthetic" on signboards to describe themselves.
The most they can do is list down aesthetic procedures on their signboards -- after approval from the ministry.
To date, 60 doctors have applied to practise aesthetic procedures with the ministry yet to decide on the matter.
Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the term "aesthetic specialist" was misleading as "there is no such entity in the medical field".
"Clinics that offer such services must produce evidence that the doctor has specialised training that tallies with requirements set by the ministry's medical practice division.
"If a doctor meets the standards and has an accredited certification, then we will allow him to offer the services. I must stress that doctors' priority when treating patients is their safety. The ministry will not compromise on this."
Dr Ismail said doctors must undergo a three-year sub-speciality course before operating on patients.
"Only then are they actually qualified to perform aesthetic surgeries," he told a press conference.
He said patients had the right to choose the mode of treatment or procedures to be used for the purpose of improving their physical appearance and general well-being.
The decision comes in the wake of discussions between ministry officials and the Malaysian Medical Council, Malaysian Dental Council, Malaysian Medical Association, the Academy of Medicine Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Plastics, Aesthetic and Craniomaxillofacial Surgeons, Society for Anti-Aging and Aesthetic Medicine Malaysia and Malaysian Society of Aesthetic Medicine.
The meeting was held following an increase in the number of botched cosmetic surgeries performed by unqualified people.
Dr Ismail said the meeting also decided to develop a structured training module for aesthetic practice.
"The relevant societies have expressed their willingness to develop the module.
"This will be beneficial to local medical practitioners interested in aesthetic practice by serving as an alternative to courses commonly conducted by foreign aesthetic experts," he added.
He was aware of doctors who attended a three- to five- day course on aesthetic procedures before operating on patients.
Dr Ismail said problems over terminology used to describe doctors handling the aesthetic aspect of health would be resolved with the tabling of the Cosmetology Act in parliament later this year.
On the fate of the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on the wife of Labuan MP Datin Fatimah Wan Chik, Dr Ismail said he had been directed to submit his qualifications to the ministry.
"He has yet to submit them. We will have to ascertain if he had the proper qualifications and competency to perform cosmetic surgeries."
He said checks were also being conducted on whether the doctors's clinic in Klang had a licence to be used for such surgery.
Fatimah, who underwent surgery for removal of eyebags, a liposuction and a tummy tuck on Jan 9, is still in a coma at a private hospital here.

Aesthetic medicine to be officially recognised

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry will draw up a training module for aesthetic medicine that will see medical practitioners who undertake the programme being acknowledged as specialists.
Its director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said currently the ministry and The Academy of Medicine Malaysia did not recognise the field as a sub-speciality.
He said stakeholders including professional bodies and associations would draw up a proposal to be presented to the ministry.
They included the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC), Malaysian Dental Council, Malaysia Medical Association, The Academy of Medicine Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Plastics, Aesthetic and Craniomaxillofacial Surgeons and Malaysian Society of Aesthetic Medicine.
A committee at the ministry would look into the recommendations.
"So, while this is pending, we will not allow a person to call himself an aesthetic specialist," he told reporters on Thursday.
"With the training module, it becomes a recognised sub-speciality with a three-year training scheme. All sub-specialists have to undergo this training locally and overseas before they can come back and claim to be sub-specialists." Dr Ismail said there were cases where the practitioner went for a five-day course and received a certificate. An additional five days gained him a diploma.
"We have characters like that in our midst," he said.
Dr Ismail added that with immediate effect, medical practitioners who currently offered aesthetic practices were required to produce evidence of their training and qualifications to the ministry's medical practice division before being allowed to carry out the procedures.